Meredith Baxter talks about being forced out of the closet

A year ago, Meredith Baxter came out on The Today Show. And this week she sat down with The Windy City Times to talk about the whys and hows and whos of her decision to open up to Matt Lauer (and the world) about her personal life.

I went on this cruise that part of We Have To Stop Now, which you may not know about but it is a web series. We were filming on the cruise. It was a lesbian series so I thought, “I am courting this, I understand what I am doing.” I was thinking I would have to address it when I got off the cruise. I didn’t know if I should put an ad in the paper. I didn’t know what you do in a situation like this!

But she didn’t have much time to decide what to do, because as soon as she got off the ship, Perez Hilton, The Star, The Globe and The Enquirer had acquired photos of Baxter and her girlfriend. And every publication was beating down her manager’s door looking for a statement. (And by “statement” I mean they were looking for a few sentences to spin into a factually errant story, as they do.)

Baxter teared up when telling The Windy City Times that she didn’t want to deny anything, but that she just wanted to live a quiet life. Because she was afraid the tabloids would turn her story into something tawdry, her manager convinced her to go on The Today Show and scoop them. Baxter told her manager, “No, no, no — this is not right. I shouldn’t have to do this.”

“You were forced into coming out, which is not fair,” the Times reporter clarified.

“Yes,” Baxter replied. “Well life isn’t fair, but it was baptism by fire … [but] I have a freedom now that I never expected.

Baxter’s Times interview raises some interesting questions — all of which we’ve been grappling with here at for quite some time. Is it ever OK to “out” a celebrity? What does it even mean to “out” someone these days when many celebrities are obviously in relationships with a same-sex partner but have not labeled themselves as gay?

Former editor-in-chief Sarah Warn examined this conundrum — the new definition of “out” — two years ago when considering Lindsay Lohan‘s relationship with Samantha Ronson.

In the olden days of, say, the 1990s, you had to say actually say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m in a romantic relationship with so-and-so” to some kind of reputable press outlet to be considered openly gay, or “out.” Otherwise, you were considered “in” (or closeted).

There are and will continue to be those who come out with words, and those who choose not to come out at all. But beginning in the early part of this decade, a new way of being out emerged that was characterized by living openly in a same-sex relationship and not denying or hiding it from the press, but refusing to actually define it with words.